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Two different tones from Stream, Stenger

Saint Louis, Mo. — St. Louis County Executive candidates Rick Stream and Steve Stenger met at UMSL today for a debate hosted and broadcasted live by St. Louis Public Radio, where the two men took very different tones in addressing their candidacy.

Stenger, a county councilman who crushed incumbent executive Charlie Dooley in the August Democratic primary, blasted Stream for a variety of votes he cast while a member of the Missouri House of Representatives. Stream focused largely on his background in politics and the armed services, touting a career he says proves he is an effective leader.

“[Stream] supports a radical, tea party, right wing agenda,” Stenger said in his opening statement, wasting no time to go on the attack. “And he’s a leader of the Birther movement in Missouri.”


Stenger repeatedly cited Stream’s recent votes on a 72-hour waiting period for abortion which contains no exemptions for rape and incest and a bill nullifying local restrictions on open carry law as an example that Stream was not the right man for the job.

Stream — the soft-spoken former budget chair — appeared hesitant to go on the offensive as directly as Stenger, but countered that the Democrat has done little in his six years on the council to move St. Louis County forward.

“He hasn’t done anything in six years,” Stream said. “He’s had six years to work for some of the goals he’s talked about, and he hasn’t done it.”

Stream accused Stenger of “flip flopping like a fish on the sidewalk” on the issue of abortion, while Stenger countered that Stream favored tax cuts for the rich over funding education, triggering a heated back-and-fourth between the two candidates.

Questions focused largely on events in Ferguson, with particular focus on police procedure and restoring faith in local government. Stenger advocated for increased minority hiring in county police departments and spoke briefly on his proposed Office of Community Engagement, which he says would be the primary facilitator of community outreach by county government.

Stream re-doubled his advocacy for better local schools and said the worst neighborhoods should be the focus of an educational and economic recovery to “end the hopelessness and joblessness.” On the topic of a possible city/county merger, the men parted ways. Stream said he was opposed to a full merger but open to sharing or combining of certain services when cost effective.

Stenger said — provided both the city and county citizens were allowed to vote on the issue and that the merger plan was effective — he would take an “analytical approach” to any proposals brought before him, but stopped short of ruling it out.

The race is considered much closer than it might have been only a few months ago. The death of Michael Brown and Stenger’s close relationship with county prosecutor Bob McCulloch have pushed some Democratic support — as well as a coalition of elected black leaders — to Stream. And Stenger’s relentless negative attacks on Stream’s voting record might hint at very close internal polling numbers.

“I wonder whether Steve Stenger has internal polls showing him down,” said former House Speaker Tim Jones, who attended the debate. “We saw negativity from him at the beginning, middle and end, and from Rick Stream we heard a positive, uplifting message about moving the county forward.”

Stenger told The Missouri Times after the debate that those complaining about a “negative tone” were “wincing from the sting of the truth.”

“How he’s voted as a member of the House reflects certain principles that he’ll govern the county by, and they aren’t the principles of the majority of county citizens,” Stenger said. “He either voted to arm teachers or he didn’t, and he did. He either voted to allow open carry over the will of the voters or he didn’t. He did. I couldn’t possibly repeat every bad vote he has taken, I had to pick and choose.”

St. Louis County residents will select a new county executive on Nov. 4.